Friday, January 18, 2013

Quit Complaining! (a long post)

My husband and I love Calvary Chapel, particularly Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale in Florida and their pastor Bob Coy. Now, we've never attended the church, but we have followed their media publications, The Active Word, for some time now. (We had the luck to be able to visit Horizon North County in Rancho Santa Fe, CA, after they ministered to my husband while he was in boot camp, and we wished we could have stayed.) We just have a deeper resonance with their messages - we agree with what we have encountered of their beliefs much more than we agree with the Southern Baptist ways that my husband was raised with and that I was later introduced to. (I, alas, was raised by two parents badly burned by a falling out with The Way International. My mom begrudges my dad for leaving and my dad considers it a cult - and they both have kinda messed up views on God because of it. My mom is mentally imbalanced, and my dad is, I dunno, a new-age Buddhist, I think. So my lessons about Christianity as I grew up were... odd.)

Anyway, when my husband left for Marine Corps boot camp, I started on Day 1 of their 365 Devotional (volume 1). I copied the short(-ish) devotionals into every daily letter I wrote to him and also wrote out a little bit about what I learned from the passage. I made it all the way to Day 80 before I got derailed from it. Boot camp is roughly 90 days, and as I got closer to the point in time where I would actually get to physically see and speak to my husband again (no, I never got a successful phone call with him the entire time), well, there was a point where letters stopped because they would arrive after he had already left, but mainly, I got distracted with all the preparation... and anticipation. There's a lot of trepidation involved in seeing the man you love for the first time in 90 days - and not just any 90 days, but 3 whole months of life-altering curriculum and conditioning - however, that is for a different post!

I tried to get back into the devotional. It had been such tremendous encouragement and support through, probably, the hardest 3 months of my life. But my makeshift, index-card bookmark remained on "Day 80: Quit Complaining", no matter what I tried. A whopping 3 years later, I am just now beginning to think that was a bit of Divine Intervention at work. This is the passage (bold lettering and underlining done by me):

"...nor [let us] complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer." (1 Corinthians 10:10 NKJV)
Paul wrote this passage nearly two thousand years ago. A lot has changed in the world since then, but one thing that definitely hasn't is man's preoccupation with complaining. Add this to the list of problems that plagued the Corinthians and add it to ours because we live in a world consumed with complaining. An Internet search on the work complain reveals countless sites dedicated to teaching us how to complain effectively in today's world. No longer seen as a sin, complaining has become an art form.
There are certainly those isolated moments in life when a complaint is appropriate. That's not what the Bible is referring to here. Instead, it is drawing our attention to a general attitude where everything is wrong and where our expectations are never being met. Let's tell it like it is - complaining is a form of idolatry. It sets "self" up as an idol to which everything in life must bow, including God. Whether we want to admit it, complaining is a matter of putting ourselves first in the universe. When we complain, we're basically declaring that our own opinions and expectations are more important than God's ordered will for our lives. My work, my wife, my world - none of it is what I deserve or want! God has given us these things (John 3:27), so when we complain about them, aren't we saying that we are wiser than Him and could do a better job of being God than Him?
Notice what the end result was for those who had complained in Israel's past: [they] were destroyed by the destroyer. This is referring to the incident in Numbers 16:41-49, where God sent a plague upon those who were complaining against Moses' leadership. Complaining destroyed 14,700 Israelites that day. What is our complaining destroying today? It destroys our Christian testimony. Nothing smacks of the world more than a heart that's constantly complaining. Let's allow God to be God in our lives and be thankful for what He decrees and determines for us.
"...giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ..." (Ephesians 5:20 NKJV)
After 3 years of returning to the same passage, you would think that some of it would have sunk in. If you were to read my journals for these years, however, you would learn that anything I gleaned rushed right through me. It seems like all I have done is complain!!

In life, it seems like there is always something a person can think of to complain about, and at times, I sure have thought I've had it worse than most. Within the last three years I have moped and complained about: the 7 months spent apart from my husband while he went through all of his Marine Corps training, getting uprooted (leaving a great job, not to mention my entire support infrastructure of family and friends) to move to an incredibly boring area of the country, only getting 4 months with my husband before he deployed for another 7 months away from me, getting pregnant in those few months with my husband, being pregnant and delivering our baby (yes, at home with friends and family, but) alone and separated from the person I trust most in the whole world, returning to this boring area to tackle the joys of new parenting, homemaking, postpartum depression, military stereotypes (and just general bullshit), PTSD, and post deployment reintegration virtually on my own. And that's only the big stuff! Wah, wah, wah - woe is me!

In the meantime, aside from damaging my Christian testimony (yeah, the one that I wasn't sharing with anyone), I was damaging myself, my marriage, and my family. All my wallowing had me feeling like I was trash, incapable of being successful at anything. My bad mood and self-pity disgusted my husband and made it where he didn't want to spend time with me - he didn't need my self-inflated problems and self-loathing on top of all the stress he was dealing with from day-to-day work! His repulsion of my attitude led me to believe that he was repulsed by me as a whole, and all my inner insecurities fed on that as if it were Thanksgiving dinner! This led me to feel dried up and cranky and I had a short fuse that my daughter often exploited to make the day blow up in my face. I felt sedentary and lazy, burying myself in the escape of video games and novels while my house decayed around me. This further aggravated the bad situation with my husband. My life was falling apart!

This wasn't something that happened a long time ago. Four days ago I posted about being sick and depressed and I started complaining about the things that seem hard and unfair in my life. A day or so later, I bit my tongue, pulled the post, and read the devotional again; I needed to make a change.

God has given me so many countless blessings, beyond the greatest blessing of all given by Jesus Christ. It reminds me of the Chinese story of the Vinegar Tasters:
... three men are dipping their fingers in a vat of vinegarand tasting it; one man reacts with a sour expression, one reacts with a bitter expression, and one reacts with a sweet expression. The three men are ConfuciusBuddha, and Laozi, respectively. Each man's expression represents the predominant attitude of his religion: Confucianism saw life as sour, in need of rules to correct the degeneration of people; Buddhism saw life as bitter, dominated by pain and suffering; and Taoism saw life as fundamentally good in its natural state. Another interpretation of the painting is that, since the three men are gathered around one vat of vinegar, the "three teachings" are one. (Wikipedia)
 Now, I know that this is not a Christian lesson, but that does not mean that one cannot learn from it. What I take away from this story is this... It is true that these three reactions are one in the sense that we can see world to be "in need of rules to correct the degeneration of people", "dominated by pain and suffering", and "fundamentally good." And depending on how we look at the world, that is how we will react. Each piece is good to think of from time to time because it lends perspective, but if we focus on adhering to the rules (or the old Laws of the Bible, the Laws that mankind is unable to ever perfectly adhere to due to sin) or zero in on the pain and suffering of our lives, then we will be sour and bitter people. But if we let go of the control and the expectations and give it to God, we can be thankful in all things, big or small, and we can live a sweet life.

I am tired of being sour and bitter. The vinegar is sweet, and I need to quit complaining! I suppose that, if anything, this is my resolution for the new year.

~ Mollie

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